Volume XI, Issue 36 ~ September 4-10, 2003

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Chesapeake Outdoors ~ by C. D. Dollar

White Perch: The Bay’s Most Reliable Fish

Add four more recruits to the legions of white perch fans, perhaps the Bay’s most reliable and accommodating gamefish. The new members of this large group now include my sisters Laurel and Allison and my brother Jason. Backed up by my new first mate, nephew Quin, Laurel and Alfred’s boy, a full-throttle three-year-old angler in training, the tasty perch never stood a chance. Despite his constant desire to drive the boat, his rudimentary skills at cutting bait were at least as sufficient as others I’ve witnessed.

My kin were in town from California, and after trying to entice a handful of Spanish mackerel from herding bunker to our lures, we found fat golden-backed white perch around marina piers in Kent Narrows. We could have loaded the cooler, but we set a self-imposed eight- to 10-inch slot for keepers, and still kept enough for a tasty mini fish fry.

You can’t do any better than white perch to beat the midday fishing doldrums. That’s one of the great things about perchin’ — it’s a rare day when they are not hungry, especially when enticed with a nugget of peeler crab. Unlike other species with more specific habitat requirements, white perch can be found just about everywhere. They suspend in the eddies around bridge pilings and hover over oyster bars and just about any other structure. It seems they like the Bay’s open waters as much as creeks. Talk about your versatile fish.

From Nova Scotia to South Carolina, white perch can tolerate salinities from zero to full-strength seawater, though they prefer waters of less than 18 percent salinity. That range is found in many places on the Chesapeake. White perch are semi-anadromous spawners, meaning they live here year-round (unlike most adult rockfish, a cousin), then move into low-salinity to freshwater of large rivers in April through June to spawn. When water warms to about 61 degrees, they release eggs and milt into the water column, using the shorelines as nursery grounds. The juvenile fishes quickly grow into hard-core carnivores, devouring aquatic insects, baby shrimp and crabs as well as small fishes.

This fish is long-living, surviving as many as 17 years in the wild. This is an important biological factor considering white perch are among the most pursued recreational and commercial fishes in Chesapeake waters. Historically, more than 80 percent of the total commercial Bay landings of white perch occur in our fine state, peaking in 1969 at about 2.8 million pounds. In the decades since, the numbers have declined.

The recreational fishery for white perch is significant, especially in Maryland. According to the Bay Program website, the largest recorded white perch taken as a sport catch weighed 2.6 pounds and was caught in Maryland waters. The fish we caught were at best half a pound to slightly under a pound. But they were worth their weight in gold for people who want to catch a Bay fish as feisty as it is tasty.

Fish Are Biting
The chumming fleet between Baltimore and Sandy Point has been culling through smaller rockfish to get limits. Croaker have moved out of the rivers and are making their way south to the ocean. Another cold front or two should do it for the hardheads.

As Bay waters cool, young-of-the-year bunker (menhaden) and other forage-species such as anchovies and silversides that use Bay shallows as nurseries will school up in open water. They then become vulnerable to bigger predators, such as bluefish and rockfish, which target them with abandon. This is happening now, but over the next two months breaking fish should bust wide.



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Last updated September 4, 2003 @ 2:17am